|photo: Bill Waters
M.J. Arlidge has worked in British television for the past 15 years. His debut novel, Eeny Meeny, the first book in the Detective Inspector Helen Grace series, was just published in the U.S. by New American Library.
On your nightstand now:
Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia by Michael Korda. It's an amazing book that really challenges the myth we have of this desert fighter. The time is ripe for a revisionist movie or series based on this book, but I suspect people might be happier with the myth.
Favorite book when you were a child:
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. It's a strange and often slightly scary read, but what child wouldn't be thrilled by the idea of rolling away from real life in a giant peach? The mark of a true genius is that only Roald Dahl could have come up with this idea or written this book.
Your top five authors:
Thomas Harris and Patricia Highsmith, because they fostered in me a love of serial killer novels. We all love the bad guys, don't we--preferring Darth Vader and Han Solo to the more nutritional Luke Skywalker--and the bad guys in their books are badder than most! Characters like Tom Ripley and Hannibal Lecter are utterly compelling and morally bankrupt, but also strangely believable and even human. Amoral characterization at its very best.
Graham Greene and J.G. Ballard for the fallen worlds they've given us. I love the sense of ennui, futility and sin in their novels. Their world is a fallen world in which we are all sinners--tainted to a greater or lesser degree. Some may find this bleak; I find it realistic as no one can honestly say they are wholly innocent. Again, you can't read a book by these two and not know who's written it. Their style and their take on the world are unique.
Stieg Larsson. He was the game changer for me. I devoured the Dragon Tattoo trilogy and it inspired me to start writing crime fiction. I loved everything about his books and resolved to write thrillers having read them--rather than police procedurals--because of the hit these books gave me.
Book you've faked reading:
Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie. It was fashionable when it came out, but I found it crushingly dull. I'm a heathen, I know, but I used it as a cure for insomnia. Never failed.
Book you're an evangelist for:
The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris. It's as perfect as a crime novel gets. The structure is so surprising, the characters so compelling, and you get two serial killers for the price of one.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Ditto. Thomas Harris books have the best covers. Beautiful, but also very sinister.
Book that changed your life:
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Lisbeth Salander taught me that good guys don't have to be dull. This was the first book I'd read in which the protagonist was more interesting, complex and compelling than the bad guys she was hunting. A brilliant creation.
Favorite line from a book:
"After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain." The last line of Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms is nothing special in itself, but given what's just happened, it's utterly brutal, allowing neither the reader nor his protagonist any time to recover from Catherine's death. As a last line it is utterly uncompromising and savagely powerful. The curt, aggressive ending of Eeny Meeny is my little act of homage to Hemingway.
Which character you most relate to:
Hannibal Lecter. Just kidding. Any of Roald Dahl's childish heroes or heroines. They are always downtrodden and ill treated, yet they somehow always triumph in inventive and colorful ways. I've just re-read George's Marvellous Medicine with my seven-year-old. What a funny and life-enhancing book it is.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
The Cry of the Owl by Patricia Highsmith. I didn't know what to expect from this one, as it isn't one of her famous ones. But I love it the best. It's a small-town thriller about a woman who falls in love with her own stalker--with tragic consequences for everyone involved. Very sinister, very claustrophobic and insidiously gripping.